Tag Archives: Vermont College

What Matters Most

Have you noticed time streaming, screaming past? Like water through your fingers? Like sand through the hourglass?

Yes, these are the days of our lives.

And once again, I have been reminded how sacred and fragile life is.

A late Sunday night when a child announces a friend is dead.

An email with someone telling me the cancer is back.

A call from a dear friend saying the chemo isn’t working.

Mass shootings.

Mass murders.


You know (oh, you know) I could go on.

But this morning, for just a moment, I want to share what my writing life has done for me.

When I mailed that first novel off so many years ago, I had no idea how my world would open up. At the time I had three babies and was so very shy I couldn’t talk to people. (Really.) I’d worked on the novel called Me and Kelly for several years until I’d realized how it needed to end. When it was very nearly ready to be published, I was on bed rest with my 4th pregnancy and I got a phone call from a guy named Rick Walton. He’d heard about me from a writer named Louise Plummer. Did I want to talk about books and writing?

Yes! I did.

Every day, Rick called me. We spoke for a couple of hours. By the time I went to the critique group run  at his home, Rick was my friend. And at that group I got to know several other people who changed my life. Made my life amazing. I wrote books with some of them. Ran the first really successful writing conference in the Provo, UT area with two of them. Became fast friends with nearly all of them.

The other day, after the telephone call from my dear friend, I realized just how far-reaching my writing life has been. I’ve met teachers in other states who’ve become my friends. Other writers from all over the country who have changed who I am. I’ve gone to school in a place hot as hell, watched my writing career completely stop for seven years, lost loved ones, a marriage, hope. I’ve made more and more and more friends, had my heart broken more times than I can count, agonized over family situations, known editors who I’ve known–without a doubt–wanted me to succeed. Who helped me make my books better and better. I’ve gotten letters from adults about my books. From children. Spoken to translators who have lost children. Learned to love people I thought I would never have anything in common with. I’ve run conferences, been to conferences, accepted awards, been passed over for awards, and all along what has mattered most are the people behind it all.

The people.


I am not who I was when I started that lonely process of writing a middle grade novel. I am better because of the people I know and love.

The best part of my life is my religion and my family. But a very close second is my writing world because it has afforded me so much–the friends I would have never met. Those people who have made my life richer. The people who have been my example. Shared experiences. Shared their love. Who have cared for me, no matter what.

How grateful I am for the people I know.

You all have made me better. I am touched to know you. So grateful I do.




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Back from Vermont College

It’s that time of year when students are coming back from Vermont College where one can attend the low residency and walk away (after lots of writing and reading, a few dances, plus invaluable lectures) with an MFA. Ten-ish days learning at the feet of greats. Here’s what Colin Murcray says about his experience.

In late 2014, after finishing a draft of my fourth novel, I found myself floundering in a well of self-doubt and fear.  My draft had turned out really rough, and I couldn’t escape the feeling that my writing was getting worse, not better.  I know I’m not the first writer to have such feelings, nor will I be the last.  But what I didn’t know at the time was how normal they were, nor did I have any idea on how to move past them.  So I didn’t write.  And the more I didn’t write, the more I panicked.
Then I received a promotional email about the writing for children and young adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I’ve looked at that program numerous times, but not until I hit rock bottom did I consider actually applying.  Fast forward to January 8th, 2015, when I found myself on a plane in route to Montpelier, Vermont and my first semester residency.
It had been twenty years since I had been a college student, and it was with no small amount of apprehension that I walked into my sparse dorm room and plopped down my belongings.  I was far from home and family,  on a campus that seemed frozen in both time and ice, and surrounded by strangers. But before long, those strangers dragged my story from me, nodding with understanding and sympathy and offering words of encouragement.
As I attended lecture after lecture on the craft of writing, listened to an inspiring speech by the legendary Katherine Paterson, and workshopped pieces with a dozen other writers, I felt a flicker of hope.  By the end of the residency, I was ready to get back to work, armed with two dozen new friends and a confidence that my work was much better than I’d thought.  More importantly, I had the knowledge and support group to help me make it even better.
This experience has led me to understand the importance of community.  While not all of us can afford the time and costs to attend a two year writing program like VCFA, we can take part in the next best thing.  Conferences and workshops offering a less intensive, but immensely valuable alternative for recharging our batteries.  We can also find our support group among the people who attend them.  My two closest writing buds I met through conferences.  The point is, we are better writers when we rub elbows with other writers.  Sitting in our home offices, just us and our keyboards locked away from the rest of the world, may seem like a romantic writing life.  The truth is, it’s darn lonely, and the only voice we often hear is the one telling us we are no good, that we are wasting our time.

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Getting Ready for Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers

That’s what we have been doing the last few months (since last August, actually). Getting ready for the conference.

How do you prepare YOURSELF for the conference? We’ll talk about getting your manuscript ready next week.


I’ve been running this conference since my youngest was a baby. I used to nurse her in my hotel room and in the bathrooms at BYU. It was terribly hard for me to leave my girls. For me, the huge homebody who would never see the light of day if she didn’t have to, well, I don’t love leaving home. This was true for both WIFYR AND when I went to school at Vermont College.

One thing I did before leaving for school was talk to my girls well in advance. They kept me strong. When i wanted to quit, they told me not to. I cried a lot at night, where they didn’t know. Sometimes, if my anxiety was high, I wrote goodbye letters to them. Letters that could be read after my demise and the double meaning of every line–every word–could be seen clearly.

I went  knowing I would learn every day. It didn’t matter that I was well-published. I could–and did–learn from every speaker. Including those graduating from school. Keep your mind open. We have some of the best coming to the conference.

I took a stuffed animal with me. That little pink pig (named Wilbird–after you know who), slept with me every night. I still have the piggy. When I make my bed, he sits on the covers.

I went to have fun. The reason I went back to school the second semester was because there was a dance and game night and I knew I would miss that evening. WIFYR is a lot of work, but dang it, it’s fun, too. So determine–no matter how afraid you are–to have fun.

These are just a few things I did as I got ready to leave for the two weeks I was away at school.

What do you do to get ready for the conference?



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Vermont College Week: Carol and Interviews

For several years, a good friend of mine tried to talk me into going to school at Vermont College in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA  program they have there. This is the oldest low residency program for writing for the young reader and is the best known in the country. I have to admit, I was scared to death to do it. I was scared to leave my girls, scared to fly to Vermont, scared to have to write critical papers. But after thinking about it for a LONG time (years), I gathered my courage together and applied to school. I don’t have an undergraduate degree. I applied with my published works as part of my background, and guess what? I was accepted to school.

Oh my goodness, am I ever glad I did this!  The program that Vermont College runs is, I think, extraordinary. One hundred plus students a semester, 15 + faculty all reaching toward knowing this craft of writing better. I didn’t have one advisor, not one, who didn’t want to see me succeed.  And every person I worked with was an excellent teacher. They each believed in me. Many are now my friends. One was just nominated for the National Book Award!

Talent runs thick at Vermont College and the bar is set high for the writer who decides to go to school there. If you’re wondering if a learner works hard at this a low residency, let me assure you they do. During my two years in school I worked on parts of several different novels, started one book and finished it (The Chosen One), critiqued the first 20 pages of two books that will come out this year, wrote a critical thesis and several smaller papers on craft, and read nearly 700 books. Of those books, all the picture books, all the non-fiction, all the early readers and chapter books I read out loud to my youngest daughter. (I would have  gotten through more but Rita Williams Garcia insisted that for one packet I only read ten novels. Yes, one of the novels was Twilight [that’s all I’m saying about that now] but it should have counted for a hundred at least, don’t you think?). I went to several dances, met amazing guest readers (I had the honor of listening to Norma Fox Mazer read her incredible novel The Missing Girl. I hope I never forget that reading. The work was so powerful that I could hardly wait to get my hands on the last novel she published while she was alive. I was, simply, mesmerized by the power of that short reading). I gave a lecture (and didn’t faint), gave a reading from my novel that mentioned Katherine Paterson (and she was in the room LISTENING) and got to introduce my amazing classmates at graduation.

It was a hard two years, but I made fast friends, wonderful friends, friends that I will love forever. I couldn’t wait to gather in the evenings with my classmates (and the other incredible people I was meeting) and laugh my guts out. I adored these writers all so much that I worked to not miss a semester so that I could graduate with them. From my class, at least a third of us published or found agents–several of us sold our creative theses. This was a hands-on, get-down-and-dirty school experience. I made it my goal to learn at least one thing from every lecture I listened to–and I left school a changed person. I realized a lot about myself during that time: that I was strong–stronger than I knew. That words bind people (even ones you see a few times over two years) in ways that cannot be explained. And it all ended with my children getting to see me graduate. I cannot write about this experience without smiling, without wanting to see my advisors and classmates, without being glad that I do NOT have to write another critical thesis!

Below, I have interviews with three of my classmates.
On Friday, we’ll have short interviews from a couple of faculty. And I’ll see if I can get a list of books sold by VCFA graduates–at least a portion of them.

From Andy Sherrod:
Vermont College: MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults–Was it worth it?
In a word… yes.

Are you glad you sought this degree from this school? Why?
When I applied to VCFA it was only of only two programs of its kind in the country.  The other program was new and had no track record of success.  However, I was not seeking a degree.  I wanted to get on the fast track to improving my writing skills.  A year and a half later I still have not benefited from the degree directly however it has helped me capture the attention of agents and editors.  When they hear that I have been through the VCFA program I gain their ear.

What was the best part of school for you?
The best part of school was the accountability and the total immersion.  Being enrolled in the program motivated me to excel, it was a sort of driving force that made me change my daily routine for two years.  I no longer had an excuse not to write regularly.  Then there are the residencies.  When I landed in Vermont for the ten day residencies I entered another world.  This is not an exaggeration.  My life in Texas was put on hold and the total immersion into the writing world seemed like another life.  It was fantastic.

How has it helped you?
Being a graduate of VCFA has set me apart in the writing community.  At my local and regional SCBWI functions I am seen as someone who is not only serious about writing but someone who knows what they are talking about.  Don’t misunderstand me, I still have much to learn, but because I am a graduate of that esteemed college (woo hoo) it gives me a platform from which to speak and help others with their writing.

What was the hardest part of the degree?
The hardest part of obtaining the degree was being cloistered away from my family for 25+ hours every week for two years.  I have the best wife in the entire world.  She encouraged me to pursue this dream but neither of us understood the sacrifice that she would be making.  All my spare time (which, really, nobody ever has) was spent writing, it was spent trying to get the most out of the program in the short time I was in it.  My teenage kids also sacrificed.  Their “participation” in my obtaining this degree is something I will never forget.

How has your life changed (not including debt or monies spent)?
I still have a career that does not involve writing.  It pays the bills.  But now I know what I want to do with the last half of my life.  Someday I’ll retire from my career and devote all my time to writing.  Until then, I’ll continue delving into the craft as a sideline.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in going to school at Vermont College?
If you love to write, if you can’t not write, do everything you can to get into this program.  Not only is there the notoriety that comes with a degree from VCFA, not only will you sit under the teaching of faculty who are the best writers in the business, you will make lifelong friendships with people just like you who love to write.  It is this community that makes the difference after graduation.

AnneMarie Turner:

Are you glad you sought this degree from this school? Why?
Yes, absolutely. It is the smartest thing I’ve ever done. Not only has my craft of writing jumped a few notches, it continues to improve because of the skills and tools VCFA helped me to develop. So I now approach my writing and reading with a much more critical eye.

What was the best part of school for you?
The community at VCFA is 200% supportive and wants to see you succeed.

How has it helped you?

In every way possible from the relationships, forums, alumni weekends, class groups, regional events to the lectures and access to lectures and essays even after I’ve graduated. The community is what makes VCFA a life enriching experience.

If you have published since, or have a contract, would you have published without the benefit of going to school?
I have not published yet, but am close. An editor I’d like to work with has read my opening and likes what she sees so far and has asked me to send the whole manuscript. I definitely think that my VCFA experience and education has helped me get to this stage.

What was the hardest part of the degree?
Leaving the program, not getting a chance to work with every single advisor.

How has your life changed (not including debt or monies spent)?

My life is fuller and richer with the friends and colleagues I have gained.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in going to school at Vermont College?
Just do it. The positives of the program will outweigh any concerns or fears you might have. And read, annotate, read, annotate as much as possible before you start the program!

From Jill Santopolo
(our first guest editor)

Are you glad you sought this degree from this school? Why?
I’m very glad I applied to the Vermont College MFA program.  I feel that the lectures and workshops I attended not only made me a stronger writer, but I think that they made me a stronger editor as well.  The program gave me a deeper understanding of the craft of writing, and strengthened the vocabulary I use to speak about it.

What was the best part of school for you?
The lectures and workshops and mentorships were all wonderful.  But the one thing I hadn’t expected was the close-knit, supportive community of writers in the program.
What was the hardest part of the degree?
I think the hardest part was balancing the workload with a full time job and other life events.  But I definitely think the juggling was worth it.

How has your life changed (not including debt or monies spent)?
Vermont College changed my life because of the people I met, the things I learned, and the confidence I gained.  Since I graduated, I’ve been teaching a writing class and really feel like I can help the students in my class because of my Vermont College education.

What is the best piece of advice you can give to people interested in going to school at Vermont College?

Do it!  It’s totally worth it.  And don’t be afraid about not having time to get things done–if it means enough to you, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.


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